To sample a real slice of Spanish life, head for the sunshine capital of the Balearics, Palma de Mallorca
Palma is the perfect destination for a city break. And I should know - I live here. This sunshine capital has been my home for over four years, and I still see visitors amazed to find there really is more to Mallorca than just Magaluf and Palmanova.
Palma offers the ultimate opportunity to sample a real slice of Spanish life away from the tourist crowds. And for those choosing to avoid the masses who rush to hit the resorts, here’s my guide to seeing the best the city has to offer.
Palma is distinguished by the strikingly gothic La Seu cathedral, which proudly crowns the bay. But booking a break here doesn’t mean trailing around churches or sacrificing a trip to the beach. Because even in Palma, sun bunnies get to worship. Just cross the main road in front of the cathedral and you'll find a wonderful carpet of golden sand and the warming waters of the Mediterranean.
Expect to see a different side to the city, depending where you stay. I live in the historic quarter, which is full of Mallorcan charm and character. This elegant old town is made up of tiny winding streets, which link together pretty plazas and regal avenues. It’s where visitors get absolutely lost navigating the streets, but that’s half the fun. It’s also where locals gather after-hours in the dozens of bars tucked into alleyways and squares, long after the day-trippers have returned to their hotels.
The other side of the bay has accommodated Palma’s modern-day overspill. It’s also home to one of Europe’s largest harbours and a holding pen for multi-million pound yachts belonging to the rich and famous. During the summer months, the area around the port is packed to the moorings with celebrities and statesmen, while on shore, bars and clubs along the Passeig Marítim buzz with excitement.
Essential sightseeing here includes visiting Europe’s only round castle, Bellver. Built in the 14th century, it stands majestically high on a wooded hill overlooking the city. It’s pleasant to visit, but if time is short, admire it from a distance and head to the city centre.
Es Baluard, the modern art museum, hosts exhibitions from the hottest names on the European art scene and sports a lovely outdoor café/terrace with views over the bay. Alternatively take a look in the once majestic townhouse, Casal Solleric, where entry to its art and photographic exhibitions is free.
While shopping is centred around Passeig de Born, Jaime III and San Miguel streets, Palma is also home to Europe’s biggest indoor covered market, Mercat De L’Olivar. It bustles to breaking point every day except Sundays, selling cheap, fresh island produce including fish, vegetables and meats.
Those visiting at the weekend will notice most shops close on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. So join the locals and see a different side of the city. For just a few euros, rent a bike (€12 a dat) or a pair of rollerblades from Palma On Bike and head east. An easy cycle path runs 10kms along the coast through the former fishing villages of Portixol and Es Molinar towards Platja de Palma, Palma’s other stretch of sand, in the predominantly German resorts of C’an Pastilla and El Arenal. In fact, cycling, walking and rollerblading here is a favourite local pastime and where I spend a large portion of my free time.
El Arenal is also the location of Palma Aquarium, which is a must see, and not just for families with kids. It makes a jaw-dropping underwater stop-off on a rainy day and is also one of the only places in Europe where visitors can dive with (small) sharks.
And as the sun begins to set, see the Palma cityscape at its most dramatic. Pull up a seat in any of the cafés lining the cycle route, watch as the sky erupts into a blaze of golden Technicolor glory, and allow the colours to wash over you. It’s a moment of total peace before preparing to hit Palma’s nightlife. Restaurants rarely open before 8pm and most clubs kick off long after midnight. The party can go on until sunrise, so plan for a long and lively night ahead.
Palma offers a city break fit for a King - quite literally, as the Spanish royal family holidays here during the summer months. It’s the perfect blend of sun, sand and sights, tightly packed into an easy-to explore-destination. Yes, life doesn’t get much better than this - unless, like me, you choose to live here.